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DAVIDSON, Robert Tremayne Pillsbury Squadron Leader, No.182 Squadron, 39968 Distinguished Flying Cross - Croix de Guerre RAF WWII
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DAVIDSON, S/L Robert Tremayne Pillsbury (39968) - Distinguished Flying Cross - No.182 Squadron - awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 October 1943. Born in Vancouver, 10 February 1917. Educated at Kerrisdale Public School (1922-27), Point Grey Junior High (1928-29) and Magee High School (1930-33, commercial course). Employed by Canadian Pacific Steamships, Vancouver, 1933 to 1936. As of November 1936 he was supplying references to Air Ministry to join the RAF. Attended RAF Ab Initio School, Hanworth, 24 May to 6 August, 1937 (graded above average as pilot). Commissioned as Acting Pilot Officer on Probation, 9 August 1937, with effect from 24 May 1937; confirmed in appointment and graded as Pilot Officer, 24 May 1938; promoted Flying Officer, 24 February 1940; promoted Flight Lieutenant, 24 February 1941; graded as Temporary Squadron Leader, 1 March 1942; promoted Wing Commander, 11 September 1943. At No.3 Flying Training School, South Cerney, 24 August 1937 to 13 February 1938; at No.6 Armament Training Camp, Woodsford, 14 February to 18 March 1939 (gunnery and bombing instruction); at No.3 Flying Training School, South Cerney, 19-25 March 1938 (advanced flying instruction); with No.1 Wing, 26 March to 31 May 1938 (pupil on course for Pilotless Aircraft Test Pilot (Queen Bee); with No.2 AACU, Lee-on-Solent (floatplane course on Swordfish); with No.1 Wing, Henlow, 24 June to 14 July 1938 (continuation of Pilotless Aircraft Test Pilot Course); with No.3 AACU, Malta, 23 July to 22 September 1938 (providing air targets for Mediterranean Fleet); with No.202 Squadron, Egypt, 23 September to 6 October 1938 (Intelligence Officer; fleet had moved to Egypt owing to "Munich flap"); with No.3 AACU, Egypt, 7 October to 4 November 1938 (proving targets for Mediterranean Fleet); with No.3 AACU, Malta, 5 November 1938 to 15 March 1939 (continued fleet target duties); with No.4 Flying Training School, Egypt, 16 March to 1 September 1939 (pilot for navigation pupils on Ansons); with No.267 Squadron, Egypt, 1 September 1939 to 6 October 1940 (transport duties, varies types, often flying VIPs; from this he qualified for the General Service Medal with clasp for “Palestine”); with Blenheim OTU, Egypt, 7-22 October 1940; with No.30 Squadron, Egypt, 23 October to 2 November 1940 (Blenheims; with No.30 Squadron, Greece, 2 November 1940 to 4 April 1941 (Blenheims); with No.30 Squadron, Crete, 5 April to 19 May 1941 (Blenheims and Hurricanes, covering evacuation); with No.30 Squadron, Egypt, 20 May to 23 October 1941 (Hurricanes, engaged in "visual night fighting"); with No.2 Photo Reconnaissance Unit, Egypt, 24 October to 23 November 1941 (photographing Tobruk; aircraft type not clear); with No.30 Squadron, Egypt, 24 November 1941 to 25 February 1942 (Hurricanes); with No.30 Squadron, Ceylon, 26 February to 23 May 1942 (Hurricanes); with No.261 Squadron, Ceylon, 24 May to 22 August 1942; with Ferry Command, Dorval, 26 December 1942 to 24 March 1943 (delivering Bostons overseas; confirmed that he ferried Boston BZ256 to United Kingdom, February/March 1943 as per RAF Ferry Command crew cards, Directorate of History and Heritage, Document 84/44-3); with No.59 OTU, Milfield, 4 April to 15 May 1943 (training on Typhoons); with No.182 Squadron, 16 May to 11 July 1943 (Typhoons, Commanding Officer); with No.175 Squadron, 11 July to 11 September 1943 (Typhoons, Commanding Officer); with No.16 Wing, 11 September 1943 to 19 January 1944 (Wing Commander, leading Nos.175, 245 and 247 Squadrons); with No.143 Wing, 20 January to 8 May 1944 (leading Nos.438, 429 and 440 Squadrons). Forced landed after engine failure on 8 May 1944 and joined French Underground as a Private, serving until 5 September 1944 (Group "Voix du Nord", sabotage and disorganization of Germans in Pas de Calais area). With No.83 GSU, 6 September to 12 December 1944. Transferred to RCAF, 12 December 1944, reverting to Squadron Leader. Promoted Wing Commander, 1 September 1951; promoted Acting Group Captain, 1 August 1961; confirmed in that rank, 5 March 1964. With Air Force Headquarters, Ottawa, 24 May to 16 September 1945 (on Planning Staff for "Tiger Force"); with Instrument Flying School, Trenton, 19 September to 30 November 1945; with AFHQ, Ottawa, 1 December 1945 to 20 May 1946 (Directorate of Intelligence); with Western Air Command, Vancouver, 21 May 1946 to 20 March 1947; with RCAF Staff College, 26 March to 20 September 1947 (student); with Central Air Command, Trenton, 21 September to 22 December 1947; with No.12 Group Headquarters, Vancouver, 23 December 1947 to 24 March 1949; with No.410 Squadron, St.Hubert, 26 March to 14 September 1949 but attended No.10 Course, Fighter Leaders School, Central Fighter Establishment, 4 July to 2 September 1949; with No.421 Squadron, 15 September 1949 to 25 November 1951; with No.1 Wing, 26 November 1951 to 9 September 1952; on strength of Canadian Joint Staff, Washington, 10 September to 16 December 1952 (service in Korea with 335th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, USAF, 15 September to 7 December 1952, flying 51 Sabre sorties - 65 hours 40 hours operational, one hour 15 minutes non-operational plus one non-operational T-33 sortie of one hour 40 minutes, for which he was awarded the Air Medal; ten engagements with MIGs but no claims by him); with No.1 Wing, 17 December 1952 to 31 January 1953; with No.3 Wing, 1 February to 15 September 1953; with No.1 Air Division Headquarters, 16 September 1953 to 6 November 1956 (commanded Rabat Detachment, February 1954 onwards); with Station Trenton, 7 November 1956 to 18 March 1957; with Station Portage la Prairie, 19 March 1957 to 15 July 1960; with Air Defence Command (26 NORAD Sector, Syracuse), 16 July 1960 to 12 July 1964, initially as Chief of Operations and Training (when he became current on the F-101B) and then as Deputy Commander; with Canadian Joint Air Training Centre, Rivers, Manitoba, 13 July 1964 to retirement. Released from RCAF, 1 April 1968. Died in Kempville, Ontario, 13 December 1976. Photo PL-32731 (ex UK-14643 dated 7 September 1944) taken after evading capture in France; “He is shown with pilots of his Typhoon wing.” PL-32733 (ex UK-14750) taken with his wife in front of English cottage; PL-32732 (ex UK-14644) shown in civilian clothes after evading capture in France. Photos PL-50508, PL-50509 and PL-50510 show him as RCAF Squadron Leader, No.421 Squadron, 1949; PL-88848 (portrait, 1959); PL-80908 (receiving U.S. Air Medal). No citation other than "in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in the execution of air operations." AFRO 1338/44 dated 23 Jun 1944 (reporting him missing on operations) described him as a Canadian in the RAF. Air Ministry Bulletin 11585 refers: // This officer has completed large number of operational sorties in Far East, Middle East and European theatres. Much of his flying experience gained in the Greek and Cretan campaigns. He has destroyed five enemy aircraft. Squadron Leader Davidson has displayed extreme keenness for operations. // NOTE: In a letter dated 30 January 1945, Air Commodore E.E. Middleton summarized Davidson's career, concluding as follows: // During S/L Davidson's career in the RAF he has flown 55 different types of aircraft for a total of over 1,800 flying hours, 600 hours of which are operational flying time. During this officer's 287 operational sorties he has been officially credited with having shot down six enemy aircraft comprising two German, two Italian and two Japanese. He also has a total of three probables and ten enemy aircraft damaged. // On a form dated 7 February 1945 he claimed to have flown four tours with 280 sorties (800 operational hours plus 700 non-operational hours). A form dated 1 December 1950 credited him with 2,019 hours 20 minutes flying time and listed his types as follows: Hart (76 hours 15 minutes), Blackburn B2 (63 hours 40 minutes), Audax (14 hours 20 minutes), Tutor (14 hours 20 minutes), Gypsy Moth (22 hours 50 minutes), Queen Bee (33 hours ), Prefect (8 hours 55 minutes), Swordfish (42 hours 5 minutes), Avro 504N (4 hours 15 minutes), Fury (20 minutes), London II (5 hours ), Anson (493 hours 35 minutes), Magister (40 hours 30 minutes), Vincent z(14 hours 10 minutes), Hind (18 hours 15 minutes), Bombay (1 hours 25 minutes), Percival Q6 (8 hours 50 minutes), Gauntlet (4 hours 10 minutes), Blenheim (151 hours 50 minutes), Gladiator (30 minutes), Fulmar (15 minutes), Hurricane (292 hours 25 minutes), Proctor (1 hours 35 minutes), Maryland (30 minutes), Martlett (15 minutes), Dominie (3 hours 20 minutes), Oxford (6 hours 20 minutes), Mitchell (3 hours 15 minutes), Menasco Moth (11 hours ), Boston (38 hours ), Walrus (45 minutes), Lysander (30 minutes), Electra (4 hours 45 minutes), Beaufighter (1 hours 30 minutes), Kittyhawk (30 minutes), Seal (40 minutes), Swallow (45 minutes), Vildebeest (one hour minutes), Typhoon (172 hours 30 minutes), Master (10 hours 10 minutes), Tiger Moth (12 hours 25 minutes), Tempest (5 hours 15 minutes), Mustang (1 hours 20 minutes), Spitfire (33 hours 25 minutes), Auster (25 minutes), Harvard (122 hours minutes), Beechcraft (36 hours 35 minutes), Dakota (10 hours 25 minutes), Vampire (192 hours 20 minutes) and Meteor (37 hours 35 minutes). Another form, with flying times to 20 July 1955, credited him with 2,532 hours 25 minutes. Most of the above types (and flying times) were unchanged, but the following additions or amendments applied: Vampire (368 hours 45 minutes), T-33 (two hours 55 minutes), North Star (19 hours five minutes), Sabre (281 hours 55 minutes). // 15 September 1947, RCAF Staff College Report by G/C C.L. Annis: // This officer’s written work has been unsatisfactory. He has not yet learned to distinguish between the pertinent and the irrelevant in dealing with a given problem, and occasionally he did not even recognize the essentials of the problem. S/L Davidson has taken very little part during formal discussions, but has been moderately active informally, and in syndicates. His outlook is loyal, adult and reasonable, though his views frequently tend to be narrow and biassed. He has been well liked by his fellows, although he has never been a leading figure. He has taken a normal part in all College activities, with evident enjoyment. It is the Directing Staff’s opinion, voiced with regret, that S/L Davidson is not qualified for award of the symbol “psa”, However, Directing Staff consider that this officer might fill satisfactorily certain routine staff appointments of an operational or semi-operational nature. It should also be recorded that he is very interested in operations in the far North. // 6 April 1949, W/C J.D. Somervlle, No.12 Group Headquarters: // Training and Search/Rescue Officer - Group Intelligence Officer. S/L Davidson has been employed as Tactics Officer and later as Search and Rescue and Training Officer in 12 Group Headquarters for the past 18 months and in these capacities has done excellent work. He has at all times been keenly interested in keeping his flying up to the required standard. He is respected by his fellow officers and the men under his control. He is interested in tennis. He has done an excellent job in impressing te importance of a knowledge of current events on the staff of 12 Group Headquarters and has been instrumental in the formation and maintenance of the efficient gen room at this Headquarters. // Attending Fighter Leaders School, Central Fighter Establishment, 4 July to 2 September 1949, he flew Spitfire 14 and Meteor 4 aircraft. He was graded as “Above average as a Squadron Commander”. The marking was on the following fields: // Leadership (Air) - Good average // Leadership (Ground) - Above average // Tactical ability - Good average // Planning ability - Good average // Briefing ability - Good average // Flying ability, general - Good average // Navigation ability - Good average // Marksmanship, air to air (cine camera) - Average // Marksmanship, air to ground firing - Average // - Bombing - Not assessed // R/P - Average // Technical knowledge - Average // Discipline, air - Above average // Discipline, ground - Above average // A sound and capable officer who has many attributes of good leadership. He was somewhat out of touch with current jet fighter technique but his ability to think clearly and his eagerness to learn enabled him to make good progress during the course. He was quick to appreciate the problems involved in modern fighter operation and with further experience he will undoubtedly make a first class Squadron Commander and potential Wing Leader. // The Wing Commander Commanding, Day Fighter Leaders School, was W/C G.A. Brown; the Commandant of the Central Fighter Establishment, who countersigned the above, was Air Commodore D.F.W. Atcherley. // 1 September 1950 - W/C E.B. Hale (Commanding Officer, Station Chatham): // Commanding Officer, No.421 Squadron, OC Flying at Station and PMC - S/L Davidson has suffered somewhat due to being repeatedly passed over for promotion. His ability as a squadron commander is exceptional. It is possible that his administrative ability suffers by comparison, but he is high average in this phase. He is absolutely correct in his attitude towards his senior and juniors and is very popular both in the service and socially. It is recommended that S/L Davidson be given a Command or staff position which would more adequately utilize his experience and ability. // 1 September 1952 - G/C E.B. Hale, 1 Fighter Wing // Chief Operations Officer - W/C Davidson is a born leader in the air and on the ground. He is an extremely skilful pilot who can demand and get the best out of his officers. His administrative ability is growing rapidly and he is an excellent Wing Staff Officer. // On 2 September 1954, G/C M.E. Pollard, 1 Air Division Headquarters, wrote: // While not a natural staff officer, W/C Davidson is capable of producing good work. During his employment as Staff Officer Operations at this HQ he ran his Branch effectively. He is happier, and I think, more suitable in Unit employment where his excellent leadership qualities are most valuable. He is current on jet aircraft. // W/C Davidson has been employed as OC the RCAF Detachment at Rabat for the past eight months, in which job he has shown diplomacy, energy and a mature sense of responsibility, contributing in large measure to the success of our air firing training in Morocco. // This officer had one of the most remarkable and distinguished careers on all CAN/RAF personnel. During the postwar years he was often assessed as "average" in staff work, but he was sometimes graded above average on that score, and he was invariably praised for his outstanding leadership, discipline and flying skills. On 29 August 1951, for example, G/C H.J. Maguire (RAF Station Odiham) wrote: // My report on this officer must be considered in the light of the circumstances of his service with me. He has had to integrate his squadron in an RAF Wing, and at the same time satisfy RCAF training requirements. With certain qualification I think he has succeeded admirably. He is shrewd, forceful and at times dogmatic. Like John Wesley, he would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven - and a very good leader he makes. His own force of will and determination does at times lead him to doubt the wisdom of other peoples' orders or procedures, but his own frankness saves him from disloyalty. He commands rather than evokes respect and admiration from his men, but a strong sense of humour enable their mutual relations to be cordial. He has acted in an unofficial capacity as a local ambassador socially, with happy results, at some financial loss. With his temperament and experience he will make an ideal Wing Commander Flying or Wing Leader. // Another assessment, dated 14 November 1956 (completed by A/V/M H.B. Godwin), was revealing of other traits: // Wing Commander Davidson, up until recently, was Commanding Officer of our Detachment at Rabat, Morocco. This task involved working diplomatically with the French, with the United States Air Force and, at first, only to a minor extent with the Moroccans. However, as time went on, the Moroccan liberation movement became more pronounced. His task became extremely difficult and indeed touchy since there were changes of Sultans and considerable antagonism towards the French. Additionally, antagonism was felt by the Moroccans when Canada sold aircraft to the Israelis. Throughout all these difficulties he capably set up and operated air firing at Rabat, and when the time came to terminate the agreement with the French, he was able to leave a very fine feeling for the Canadians in the minds of all three nations involved. We owe a great deal of our success at Rabat to Wing Commander Davidson. // I consider him to be a good organizer, a strong supporter of the RCAF and an officer on whom we can rely in difficult circumstances. // On 15 August 1963, Colonel Edward A. Herbes, 26th NORAD Sector, Syracuse, wrote: // Group Captain Davidson has been my Deputy Commander for two years, during which time he has several times assumed command in my absence, the last time being for three months. During these two years I have grown to know the Group Captain as an extremely able officer with traits of character and judgement that are rare even in a select officer corps. There is no question that this officer can assume all the responsibilities of increased rank, and is deserving of such rank. In addition, Mrs. Davidson and their two sons have exemplified the best, in every way, in the RCAF tradition of "ambassadorship". The Davidson family, in toto, is loved and respected by all the many friends and associates they have collectively and individually made during this tour of duty. // On 1 April 1965, Air Commodore R.J. Lane drafted an assessment when Davidson was Commandant, Canadian Joint Ar Training Centre, Rivers. // Be satisfied with him in next higher rank. This assessment is based on very little knowledge of G/C Davidson and his performance of the shirt time since he became Commandant of Rivers. The organization and channels for command and control at CJATC leave much to be desired and this has not made the Group Captain’s task any easier. I sense that he is still feeling his way into this complex organization and treading lightly because of tri-service implications. He appears to have strong personality which will come to the fore now that the Deputy Commandant is leaving and he will have to exercise more judgement and make more decisions, without the advice of his Deputy. Notwithstanding the difficulties encountered he has made several suggestions for improvement. I look for greater results as he gains more experience with his unit. He is recommended for promotion. // On 9 August 1967, as he commenced retirement leave, A/V/M R.C. Stovel (AOC Training Command) wrote: // A deceiving officer with inbred leadership qualities. G/C Davidson, now on retirement leave, has been in command of Rivers for three years during which time he has operated this Army/Air Force base with the minimum of fuss and bother. Well respected by his staff, his contribution to running a closely knit and harmonious group was clearly spelled out in the spontaneous expression of appreciation given by his officers on the occasion of his retirement in June. While I do not expect that G/C Davidson would excel as a staff officer in a headquarters, there is no question about the fact that in the operational sphere he has left a “Davidson” legacy which will long be remembered. It was a pleasure to have G/C Davidson as a member of the Training Command team. // Davidson married Joy Arnold (a divorcee) on 18 December 1943. She brought a daughter (Valerie Jill Ann Arnold, born in London, 7 November 1937) and together they had Russell Howard (born Chichester, 8 November 1944) and Guy Robert (born Ottawa, 10 November 1945) // RCAF Press Release No. 2756 dated 14 September 1943 by S/L /R.D. Forster reads: // “I got out of Greece by the skin of my teeth. Practically the same thing happened in Crete. I surely would like to get out there under these more favorable circumstances,” smiled sun-bronzed W/C Robert T.P. Davidson, of Vancouver, B.C., as he lounged on a sand dune at the edge of an airfield, and watched Typhoons soar off a runway just over his head. // Davidson knows the world’s skyroads – the ones controlled by the Allies, at least. His lengthy air force tour has not only taken him to England, but to Egypt, Greece, Crete, Palestine, the Western Desert, Ceylon – yes, Greenland and Iceland too. He knows the Orient, also, Japan, China and Hong Kong. That is from peace-time viewpoint, however. When it comes to a question of where he enjoys flying most, Davidson’s answer is definite: “Greece, and the Balkans”. // Life has been an interesting round of travel and excitement for this 26-year-old Typhoon squadron, commander since he left Magee High School in Vancouver, and took to the sea, then to the air. It has carried him in and out of tough situations, brought him face to face with all members of the unholy Axis clan, Germans, Italians, Japs. // Not many pilots in the present war can claim victories over all three nationalities. Davidson can. Primarily a bomber pilot, he has more time on Blenheims than other aircraft. His victim list included two Italians, a 505 Cant floatplane and a CR42 fighter; a German Ju52 troop carrier; a Japanese version of the Seversky97 bomber, and a Zero. // The Japs were knocked down on April 5, 1942. “The biggest day of my life,” Davidson puts it. It could justifiably be so. That was the occasion of the great air battle over Ceylon, when a mere handful of R.A.F. pilots stood off an overwhelming Japanese force, launched from aircraft carriers in a huge armada attacking the island. “I’ll never forget that day,” Davidson assured. “I had been ordered to the Burma front from the Middle East, but we were diverted to Ceylon. We had only been there two weeks when the Japs swooped down on us.” // “Only four pilots were on readiness when the Japs were sighted. There were 50 Jap fighters over the aerodrome when we took off. Their bombers were coming in at 500 feet for low level bombing. It was a ‘shaky do’ getting up in the air. They apparently had us cold – about 120 aircraft opposed to the 20 Hurricanes we got into the air.” // “There were some hectic battles over the island that day,” continued Davidson. “Our squadron got 12 confirmed, seven probables, 10 damaged. It was a case of nipping in and out of clouds with all that opposition around. I destroyed two, making five interceptions. Any probables among the interceptions? I never stopped to check. Things happened too fast. It was better policy to get back into a cloud,” he declared. // Opportunity to get back to England came in due course, after Davidson had led the squadron while stationed in the jungle at Trincomalee, Ceylon. No further excitement had occurred. Returning to the United Kingdom took him more than halfway around the world. It also carried him home, briefly. Going by ship, he found himself in South Africa and South America, before touching the West Indies, ultimately New York. He was still a long way from England, but he got permission to make a quick trip to see his family in Vancouver. His last home appearance had been 1936, and air force entry had been preceded by two years at sea. Davidson had been a cadet on the Empress of Canada and the Empress of Russia, training to be a purser. The flying “bug” bit him when he was stationed at Hong Kong, while his ship was in drydock. He used to watch R.A.F. pilot flying in that area. That gave him his idea. Little did he think when taking a short term commission that R.A.F. wings would carry him to so many countries. // Ferrying a Boston across the Atlantic, over the “hippity-hop” route via Labrador, Iceland and Greenland, provided Davidson with a radically different picture of the war scene. It was climatic extreme from the Middle and Far Eastern temperatures he was accustomed to. // On arrival in England, he was posted supernumary to a Typhoon bomber squadron. In July, he was given command of another “Bomphoon” unit. “This squadron looks like a League of Nations,” he pointed out. “I don’t know when I’ve had so many Canadians around me. One flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Harry Davies, comes from the Gold Coast, the other, Erick Vernon-Jarvis, is from Kenya. I have two Aussies at the moment, a New Zealander, a South African and a West Indian. Over 50 percent of the flying personnel is Canadian. Joining this squadron has come at a time when I seemed to be losing touch with Canada, after being away from home so long.” // Being with the first squadron into Greece and last out was a rather harassing Davidson experience. That was in late November, 1940. // When war was declared, he was at a navigation school in Egypt. He then joined a Blenheim squadron in the Western Desert. A session of local defense, and roughing it in the desert, preceded the move to Greece. “When seven Hurricanes came in we helped out, although we were bomber pilots. We had orders to proceed back to Egypt with our old Blenheims. I wasn’t there long, being sent back in a Hurricane. The Germans were making life very tough for us at that time. I arrived in Crete at sunset. The next morning there was no more Hurricanes, just the stray bits and pieces. A German bomb made a direct hit on it. The Huns were putting on a lot of pressure to push us out of there. I remained a week. We used to sit on a hill and watch the German aircraft ground strafing. There was nothing we could do about it. It was bad enough getting shoved out of Greece. Getting out of Crete was even more hectic. They piled 45 of us into a Sunderland flying boat, and away we went for Egypt in the middle of the night. We reformed our squadron after that, converting from twin engine Blenheims to Hurricanes to take up fighter role,” continued Davidson. “It made us offensive minded, by way of a change. We certainly were fed up with being pushed around so much. In June, 1941, we were on night defense duty of Alexandria. In November, we moved to the Western Desert, to cover ships moving to and from Tobruck. I got my Hun, the Ju52, when I was out on a ground strafing job. I caught him in Halfaya Pass, and shot him down,” he said. Getting a Typhoon fighter bomber, after having taken the controls of 55 types of aircraft since getting his wings in 1937, was like a long deferred answer to a pilot’s prayer. // The “Tyffie”, or “Bomphoon”, as his particular aircraft is known, is the last work in double-barreled offensive warfare. It is a long forward step from the Hurri-bomber. Its Napier Sabre engine gives it a cruising speed in excess of 300 miles per hour. It can function as a straight fighter with four devastating 20mm cannon. It can also carry a bomb load of two 500 pounders, which, once projected, place the typhoon in a strictly fighter role. // With an ear splitting roar, a glistening aircraft flashed over the sand dune, revealing its silvery striped belly, wheels retracting, bombs neatly tucked in the wing racks, powerful cannons protruding forward. It was truly a business-like instrument of war. // Davidson reared himself on his elbow, following its upward flight. “We can do a bit of pushing around ourselves,” he grinned, “with that sort of stuff to fight with”. // RCAF Press Release No.347 dated 14 September 1944, transcribed by Huguette Oates, reads: // It was a Sunday morning in Southern England. From across the meadows came the quiet voices of church bells. A flock of stately geese cruised silently across the pond to find a rendez-vous beneath some willows. The warm sun defied the tang of autumn that sought to creep into the breeze. It was England, peaceful, serene, unruffled. A dignified old gentleman with his twisted walking stick walked down the lane his dog at his heels. It seemed impossible that a few short months ago the air had been filled with gunfire and hatred and that blood was being spilled a few miles away. Occasionally, a troop transport aircraft would hurry by in the direction of France and only that disturbed the placidity of the lovely English morning. // It seemed impossible too, that the man who came to the gate of the little cottage could know about war and killing and treachery. He was wearing the blue of the Royal Canadian Air Force and on his tunic he displayed the purple and white DFC. His pipe was drawing nicely and it seemed to belong with the friendly smile and firm white teeth. He introduced his wife whom he married in England, a beautiful young girl with honey-colored hair and incredible blue eyes. If ever you could imagine an idyllic couple, this was it…the cottage, the rose bushes and the milk bottles as yet not taken in and the gate that was opened for as to enter. This was the England that you read about. // // But there must be some mistake. Surely this friendly young Canadian who had come over to seek adventure in the R.A.F. seven years before couldn’t be the man who had defied death for five years on operations. Surely this wasn’t the man who had, but two short weeks before, seen a French woman bayoneted to death as she sought to save her child from the fanatical Hun. This couldn’t be the man who had helped the Maquis sabotage German telephone lines, and who had written a book about his experiences as he lay within sight of the buzz bomb bases. // They say that after a tour of operations, a man’s nerves are affected, that he shows the strain and that his eyes acquire “the look”. There was none of that here. This man, put him in a business suit, could sit well behind an executive’s desk and in that capacity you would naturally have like him. He was clean cut, with an honest face that inspired confidence. // But he was the man who had lived through five years of war, first against the Japs, and then the Hun in North Africa, and Crete and Greece. A man who had been shot down over France, who had lived with the Maquis and who had come back to tell about it. This was Wing Commander Robert T.O. Davidson, DFC of the RAF, still a Canadian and one of Canada’s most amazing heroes. // When Bob Davidson was 17, he made his break. School wasn’t for this lad from Vancouver and he used to watch the ships sail into the sunset from Stanley Park with a great longing in his heart. The Pacific with its far places beckoned, and it was more than he could stand. His father owned a shipping line and the insistence with which he bothered “the Guvner” for a trip on one of the Oriental boats had its results. He was apprenticed to a CPR liner and sailed away to Japan. To the kid with the inquisitive blue eyes, it was the realization of a dream. He saw Tokyo and the Jap ports and he noted what he saw. He had led snowball fights against the little Japanese boys back in Vancouver and he knew them well. Little did he realize that someday he would fight them with weapons much more powerful than snowballs. // After three years of the boats, the strange lands, the garble of tongues, he sailed for England. “I got a wire from a friend over there,” he says, “and he told me to come on over and have fun. Well, I was looking for fun. We got brassed off after a while though and he suggested we join the RAF. I said ‘don’t be a bloody fool’, but on thinking it over we said, ‘Why not’. We still had a couple of years to kick around. I was only twenty then – so in we went.” // // That opened a new chapter in the young Canuck’s life. There was the intense RAF training, the drill, the flying school and finally the wings. Young Davidson had arrived – or so he thought. He flew fighters and the Hurricane was his to master. Master it, he did! // Soon it began to pall and he applied for overseas service. You couldn’t hold this boy down to routine stuff and he just had to see some more of the world. It wasn’t long before he found himself in North Africa. There were the days in Gibraltar and the holidays in Malta. It was a cozy existence and the boys flew their patrols which, while they seemed to be routine, whipped them into the finest fighting force in the world. There came a transfer to India and finally Ceylon. Then the war clouds broke. // There were endless days in which they saw little action and they chaffed to be in England. That was where the fun was and they had to get in action. The Jap answered their wish for them. After Pearl Harbour the beautiful reverie was ended. They went up to challenge the Zeros in their Hurricanes and they couldn’t believe it when the boys didn’t come back. It was hard to comprehend that the beloved Hurries could be beaten by anything the Japs could build, but there it was! // They learned a lot about tactics in those days. You couldn’t turn with a Zero and if you tried, “there was no future in it”. It wasn’t funny. They were there when S/L Birchall with his heroic Catalina squadron warned them about the approach of the Jap at Ceylon, and it was touch and go. Davy was in his element and he loved it. But the Japs didn’t love him. Snowballs, eh! // From there, he went to the Middle East and was in on the show there. He saw the fall of Greece and was one of the Gallahads who flew against incredible odds when the Germans had 10 Me110’s to one Spitfire. There was Crete. Then there was England and the kid from Vancouver was back to the biggest battle of his life. He got his share on Spits and moved on to Typhoons. “They are the sweetest things I have ever flown,” he says. “When you dive them and open up with the rockets, Jerry has had it and no fooling.” He reveals that he commanded a squadron of them and it was while leading his wing that his greatest adventure started. // “It was on May 8th that I got mine,” he said. “I was stooging along to do a blast on the tailway yards at Douai. The flak was coming up in a screen and suddenly I felt myself get hit. The motor froze and I knew I was in for it. Things happen fast at a time like that. There was no fire, a fact which I subconsciously realized, and began to look for a place to set down. There was a wheat field under me and I made for it. During the last few hundred feet, smoke began to come from the motor and began to really worry me. I touched down all right, scrambled from the aircraft and fell flat on my face. And you should have seen me take off from those parts. As I ran, I thought of my wife and of how worried she would be and when I saw that the fire had gone out on the touch-down, I tore back to send a message to my chaps over the radio. They were still in the vicinity and I contacted them. ‘Tell my wife I am O.K.’, I signalled and they confirmed that they had heard it. Then I began to think of escape.” // “I knew we were in an area infested with the Huns and to one side of the field I saw a wooded area. My first impulse was to run for the woods, but something stopped me. In a flash of logic, I realized that that is where they would search first so I lay in the wheat field and made myself as small as possible. It was a good idea. The Huns combed through the woods and so intense was their search that they found four other pilots who had escaped and I’ll tell you about one of the poor devils later. I stayed put. There was a French farmer at work in the field and, as he drew his roll around the fringe of the field, he drew closer to me. I felt he knew I was there and finally he came close enough to verify it. Very discreetly, he told me to stay there and that he would be back later. All around me the search was going on and when the Huns appeared with blood hounds, my heart sank. It was then that I knew I was among friends. When the dogs appeared the French farmers began to mill around the aircraft and they so confused the scent the dogs couldn’t get a clue. It was a nice piece of work.” // “I lay there, cramped and afraid to move from early afternoon until late at night and I had just about given up hope of ever seeing my rescuer again when I heard him crawling toward me. I couldn’t speak a word of French and he little English but I soon got the idea I was t follow him. We both crawled into the night.” // “Stealthily we made our way to a barn which I discovered later was on a large French farm and from which many Allied fliers had made their escape. The accommodations were not good but after all, you don’t expect pigs to leave the place tidy. I bedded down to wait for the dawn. My rescuer made sure I hadn’t been wounded and stealing away, he promised to return with food. It wasn’t much but it was food and I was grateful.” // “The next night he returned with clothes and within a few days he produced papers that identified me as being Jacques Richard, Carpenter specialist. Things were shaping up. I learned that my rescuer’s name was “Raoul” and his story would make a book. For four years he had been aiding the escape of allied fliers, always at the risk of his life, spurred on only by a black hatred for the Germans. // The life in the barn was not for me. I had to get out and I risked it by going to work in the fields. It didn’t take long to discover that I had landed in the midst of the buzz bomb area and every night I could see them rocketing off towards England. Suddenly, the realization came to me that I had to see them in operation and that perhaps, if I escaped, I could take back information that might be of help tour cause. Discreetly I skirted the sites and since Raoul had been pressed into service by the Germans to work on the platforms, he had access to the bases. Night after night, he would bring me details of their workings and I would note them down. I studied their launchings and found that only 15 percent of them didn’t succeed in their take-off. There were other things too and Air Ministry has the facts on them.” // “Since I had made myself known to the district I had to take a job and Raoul offered to get me a spot at the launching platforms. Somehow, I couldn’t take it. That would have been a bit thick don’t you think. However, I was employed by the Germans and was assigned to the surveying of new sites. If they had only known!” // “One day we were having dinner in the French farm house when a German Major appeared. He was invited to sit down and I had the experience of portraying a humble peasant while the Major ate with us. It is something to chuckle about now, but it wasn’t then. More than once, I have sat in my room in the farmhouse while Raoul entertained German officers on the other side of the wall. They thought he was a polite collaborationist and little did they know the real story. It was in this room that I completed my book about my experiences which I call “Flak and Fancy Pigeons.” // “It wasn’t long before the existence on the farm began to wear a little thin and I had to do something against the hated Hun. Raoul produced a radio for me and that helped to break the monotony but the reception on it wasn’t good. It was a primitive crystal set and if conditions were right I could get London and the BBC. It was like a ray of hope, and it pulled me through some very dull days.” // “The Maquis were operating in the district and they were doing a wonderful job. Of course it was hazardous work but it was for France and they love France. Whatever you may think about the fall of France, you can be sure that the French people love their country and while there may be many factions at work in it now, their prime interest is for their native land.” // “One night, I was introduced to the Maquis chief. I told him I wanted to help and he was keen to have me. They were attempting to gather rifles for the great Day and their methods were shall we say … gauche. We would steal out after dark and travel to a highway where we knew its dispatch riders would be likely to travel. A rope would be strung across the road and, as the rider approached, we would lift the rope and catch him under the throat. He would fall to the road and was usually fatally injured. His rifle would be taken, his body rolled to the ditch and we would vanish into the night. You couldn’t take any chances on jobs like that and I don’t know of any night that I wasn’t scared sick. // “We found also that you could play merry hell with their communications by cutting the telephone wires and that was good sport. Sometimes we could risk the odd shot in the dark but never near a town. If we operated in the vicinity of a town, the Germans would march in, take hostages and destroy them because the brutes loved to kill.” // “I told you before that I was going to mention one of the Canadians who was captured in the search for me. When they rounded him up, he was marched away with a single German infantryman, a gun at this back. But the kid wasn’t through fighting. Suddenly he turned, grabbed the gun and bashed the Heinie, making his escape. He couldn’t hope to win though and soon they had him rounded up. After a “trial”, he was executed for “conduct unbecoming to a prisoner of war. You know, I didn’t really hate Germans before that. I don’t suppose half of us really do. But when you see them at work and know how they think, you change inside. They are beasts and nothing more.” // “Every day, I was there prior to D-Day, the natives used to ask me if I thought there would be an invasion. I assured them there would be, (I could speak French by then) but, sometimes, I wondered too. Was it all a colossal bluff? I knew we had the materials and the men but could I be sure they would come and if they would succeed? I hoped so and told them so. I wasn’t let down.” // “From D-Day on, you could notice the change in their spirits. They became a little more reckless perhaps but there was new hope surging through them. They knew we couldn’t fail and as the reports came through from the invasion coasts, reports whispered from mouth to mouth, our hopes soared higher and higher. We heard conflicting reports, of course, but we all knew that liberation was drawing closer. You could tell it too, by the change in the Germans. They lost some of their swagger and their nerves tensed.” // “I was in a small French town where instructions had been issued that no one appear on the streets. I was in the upstairs room of a house when I heard a shot ring out. Peering from behind the curtain, I saw something I shall never forget. In the street was a woman, blood gushing from a bullet wound and near her was her child crying and frightened. From a doorway, a German soldier loomed over her and giving no heed to her cries for mercy bayoneted her to death. The child screamed with terror and my senses revolted at the sight. He murdered the child too. Those are the kind of guys we are fighting against.” // He told me more. There were the allied fliers who were shot as they parachuted to earth. There were the mass executions and the plan of mass malnutrition and he spoke of them with a detachment that defies analysis. He had seen them and he wouldn’t forget. Then came the day when the Germans had to leave. The blustering Storm Troopers, their pride shattered, turned tail and ran from the swift advance of the Allies. There was jubilation in the backwaters of France and the days of worry were over. // Bob Davidson of Vancouver had come through and he met the liberators with tears in his eyes. They gave him passage back and he returned to his squadron still in the clothes of Jacques Richard – Carpenter specialist. At first, they couldn’t believe it. Some of the boys in his squadron could hardly recognize him but he was back and it was a celebration for the whole station. “The skipper is back. The skipper is back.” // He came home to England the other day. His wife was waiting at the cottage I visited today and she had never given up hope. “It was a strain”, she said, “but I knew Bob would be back”. We spent our honeymoon near here and we like this part of the country but we are both anxious to get to Canada. Bob has been in the RAF for seven years you know, and he has only been home once. He is pretty anxious to see his people. Yes, I want to go there too. I have never been to Canada but I know I shall love it. Bob surely does.” // It was a quiet English morning. The sun was shining grandly and now and then a transport plane went by. They won’t be troubling the peace of the countryside much longer because there are men like Wing Commander Bob Davidson to step in when the weather is heavy. The old man with his twisted walking stick was coming back along the road when I left and he had no fear of the Hun. And that is the way it will always be. // Statement covering period May 8, 1944 – September 5, 1944, by W/C R.T.P. Davidson (C89519), DFC (Witness: W/C A.H. Tinker, AFHQ, Ottawa, Ontario, February 7, 1946), transcribed by Huguette Oates, reads: // Rendez-voused with my wing over Manston at 1100 hours (May 8, 1944) and set course for French coast. Crossed French coast at Hardelot, height 8,000 feet. Set course for marshalling yards at Douai. Dived-bombed target and withdrew towards Hardelot. 35 miles from the coast my engine failed; strong westerly winds and low altitude prevented gliding out to sea. Turned on to course east, south east and glided inland. Flak intermittent. Selected a large field and carried out normal forced landing procedure. Last 1000 feet light flak perforated engine caused Glycol leak. The Radio was still serviceable after landing; I then contacted the deputy wing leader and informed him the landing had been successful and to notify my wife that I was intact. // On leaving the aircraft, three peasants greeted me in the customary French fashion. They did not make any move to help me, and not understanding their language, I ran as fast as possible across a ploughed field, and jumped in to a small wheat field to regain my breath. German soldiers promptly arrived on the scene and a search was obviously instituted. The soldiers used rifle and light machine guns to wantonly spray ditches, copses and most likely hiding spots. Numerous rounds passed over head in a most unpleasant fashion. A German officer and two soldiers stood fifteen feet from where I lay. They appeared annoyed and suffering from over exertion. One shouted “Shooten und Seeten” which I presumed meant shoot on sight. At two o’clock, dogs were brought to the scene but could not pick up my trail as numerous villagers had milled round the aircraft thereby destroying the scent. // At three o’clock, a peasant began harrowing the field next to mine. I crept towards him whenever there was a light zephyr of wind so the rustling of wheat tops would not look out of place. After numerous circuits of the field, he stopped his team near me and bent down to adjust a trace, at the same time shaking my hand and inferring that he would return at midnight. At sunset, soldiers were posted near me. I could distinguish six forms and seven different voices. One soldier climbed into the cockpit of the Typhoon and pressed cannon firing button, all the guns responded. During the night, the guards continued to chatter which was helpful, as it enabled me to keep track of their position. At 2 a.m. I watched a figure crawling towards me. I picked up a rough stone and waited. When fifty feet from me, he, the peasant, made a quiet clucking noise, I crawled in his direction. The ground was rough and sharp, stones soon cut my knees and elbows. We proceeded in this fashion for a considerable distance and then turned north. The moon being full and, with little cover, we ran in a stooped position for approximately two miles, then entered a small forest and crept toward a farm house on the other side. I then slept for an hour behind some cows in a drafty shed. At dawn, I was introduced to Madame Tartare of Verchin (near Fruge, P. de C.). I was fed and then hidden for three days in a loft. The hay of alfalfa having been removed, I was buried in the floor which was at last 3 feet thick with old fodder. German soldiers were frequent visitors at the farm and for the first 3 days an intensive search was conducted. M. Boulet was quite distressed at the Germans thoroughness. He and Madame dug a pit under the oat-box in the stable and lined it with boards and straw. I entered, moving a small box containing harness and would draw this box over my head when inside. It was a most unpleasant cache; and was soon covered with cob-webs and filth. Three mares cracked their hooves incessantly against the strong oat-box and when they performed a natural function, my hide-out became quite damp and the straw covered with mill-dew. I lived in the hole for six weeks. // After the hue and cry had died down, M. Boulet arranged to have my photograph taken and soon obtained an identity card as well. He was a member of the organization and plans were made to put me on my way to the Spanish border. Unfortunately, the organization for affecting escapes had been compromised and it was hopeless at that juncture to plan on any assistance. I thought of many hair-brained schemes, but was unable to decide on any definite plan of action. To be of some use to my new found friends, I elected to join their branch of the Maquis and was later inducted into the French forces of the interior as an ordinary soldier at my own request. They suggested my rank should be equivalent to what the R.A.F. had bestowed on me. I dissuaded them by explaining I knew nothing of ground tactics. // We planned numerous local actions, gathered together rifles and revolvers, and tried to organize a large force of villagers. Our first attempt to organize our unit proved a failure. We arranged to meet in a small wood, south of the village at midnight. Numerous Hun patrols were in the vicinity and a strict curfew in force. Therefore, extreme caution was exercised. Out of the twenty-five to thirty youths expected, only five showed up. Nevertheless, it was a start and we knew who could be relied upon. Raymond Boulet and myself would reconnoitre the district practically each night; this was nearly our undoing on one occasion. We had been carefully examining a local railway bridge when the evening patrol arrived on the scene and instead of continuing, they sat down on the grass bank, near the bridge, and remained for half an hour. On orders from General Koenig’s Headquarters, (I believe Arras), plans were laid to cut all telephonic communications at 2 a.m. one morning. My friends did all the cutting that night. As a result, the local German Commandant impressed twenty civilians each night for guard duty along the railway line. Should any further sabotage occur, they were to be held responsible. This curtailed our activities somewhat, but simplified our evening reconnaissance. // The second night after the invasion of Normandy, I was out alone and creeping towards a wood near which the Germans had an installation. Three loud explosions followed by the sound of rockets and then the rush of a low flying aircraft over my head. I thought it was a new type of flak and the aircraft one of ours. A second machine flew overhead and crashed quite near. I made towards it as quickly as possible thinking it might be possible to save some of the crew. When quite near, the machine exploded which frightened me somewhat so I hid and watched for future developments. It was raining hard by then and being wet and miserable I returned to my hole in the stable. // The buzz-bomb offensive was now in full swing and I made copious notes on all the aspects visible, but had no way of passing the information to the U.K. We spent many nights out on the fields watching the launchings and I believe I recorded at the time that 12% of the visible launchings were failures, of which 8% exploded on striking the ground. We collected explosive from flying bombs that had crashed, but not detonated. The explosive was placed in large sacks and carried back to the farm. On these trips, the peasants did all the heavy work and I acted as guard; my equipment consisting of a very good double barreled sporting gun. The explosive was transported from Verchin to Lisbourg by hay wagon. I don’t know where it was finally used. I tried making numerous detonators from original ideas and little else, my success was limited. // A new dug-out was constructed for me in a field near a barn. Entrance was made from inside the barn, by a camouflaged sliding door. The interior was large enough to permit sleeping with legs outstretched – a decided improvement. All our firearms were stored here; they included a shot-gun, .22 repeater, two French service rifles (vintage 1870 and butts slightly rotten) and three revolvers. // In August, word was received that the R.A.F. were sending an aircraft over to pick me up, but that it would be necessary to proceed to Bruay-en-Artois. New papers arrived and my occupation was now “specialist carpenter”. I carried a letter signed by the Commandant of the Region which explained that I was engaged on construction work for the Germans and had permission to travel. // Left Verchin in the morning by motorcycle, M. Bourgeois, an officer of the “F.F.I” was driving. Rode past numerous flying bomb and flak sites and the usual columns of German troops. At Monchy-Cayeux, the rear tire was punctured and whilst affecting repairs, numerous soldiers and children gathered around to watch. To prevent conversation, I sucked a quantity of plums and tried to look dumb – which wasn’t difficult. On the road again, we went through the garrison town of St. Pol. Gestapo and “S.S.” troops predominated. We stopped at a small estaminet on the outskirts of St. Pol. The motorcycle engine had over-heated and it was necessary to wait twenty minutes for it to cool down. The journey to Bruay-en-Artois from St. Pol. was uneventful. At Bruay, we went to a tailor’s shop. (M. Journe) and I were introduced to approximately ten members of the “Resistance”. Late in the afternoon, I walked from Bruay to Houdain accompanied by a guide. My boots were not a pair and my feet got blistered. Stayed at Houdain for a week and slept in a bed for the first time in three months. From Houdain, I could see the field that was supposed to be used by R.A.F. aircraft. I was given a message written in English which said that the R.A.F. would not be able to pick me up. M. Salome, a garage proprietor of Bruay, drove me to a house in Auchelle. Next morning, Lancasters dropped bombs in a field next to my room and blew in the glass. In the afternoon, in company with two members of the F.F.I., I walked to a shop in Auchelle, and was presented with a new pair of shoes. Later on, we rode to Bruay by motorcycle and were straffed on the way by Spitfires who fortunately missed. // On returning to Bruay, German troops were straggling eastward along the route National. The citizens of the town lined the streets and cheerfully watched the stragglers. I stayed with M. Salome at his garage on the main street. Shortly after arriving, two Germans, deserters, appeared and asked to be supplied with civilian clothes. We took them prisoners and had some of the F.F.I. guard them. They were placed behind the garage in the vegetable garden. By sundown, we had 22 German prisoners and three saddle horses. After sundown, all the prisoners were escorted to the town jail and locked up. After this, I went off to an estaminet with M. Salome; unfortunately a small Panzer column passed through the town at this time. A fight took place at the jail and our prisoners were released. No quarter was given to the F.F.I. after this engagement. // Early next morning, we moved from the garage to a house away from the main thoroughfare. I accompanied M. Salome back to his garage in the afternoon for the purpose of feeding his rabbits. “S”S” soldiers made our journey difficult – they were posted at all main corners and on house tops. We proceeded via back gardens and over fences. Even so, two of their snipers very nearly hit us from a range of fifty yards. All movement was apparently illegal and innocent civilians were fired on regardless of sex. Next morning, a French policeman told me thirty-five civilians had been shot, he had compiled a list showing all the names and addresses. // In the evening, I left Bruay for St. Pol; and on the way met a British despatch rider obviously lost. I showed him the road to St. Pol and rode with him. At St. Pol, the Welsh Armoured Division arranged for my transport to Poix. I travelled from Poix to Amiens by jeep and rejoined my wing.